The Twitter aristocracy no longer exists. Last year, Elon Musk described the verification process as a “lords and peasants system” and on Thursday he deployed the guillotine. Feudalism has now given way to capitalism: money gives you status.
In a long-threatened cull, famous names like Cristiano Ronaldo, Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian, JK Rowling and Sir Paul McCartney lost the blue ticks that confer verified status on accounts.
On November 1, shortly after buying the social media platform, Musk criticized the verification system, tweeting: “Twitter’s current lords and peasants system of knowing who has and hasn’t got a blue check mark is bullshit.” Soon, he wrote, users would have to pay for accreditation, adding: “Power to the people!”
Accounts affected by Thursday’s move had not signed up for the Twitter Blue subscription service, which costs from $8 a month in the US, £9.60 in the UK and A$13 in Australia, and is now the only way to secure that coveted blue tick: unless Musk chooses to cover the cost himself. The change has removed the blue tick from some 400,000 legacy verified accounts.
However, the blue mark is not just an honorific. Subscribers to the new service will get improved rankings in conversations and searches, while their responses will also receive increased prominence. The tweets they interact with will also benefit.
It means that maintaining influence or presence on the platform will cost money from now on, a change from the previous system where blue ticks simply reassured users that accounts were who they said they were. However, Musk has said that users will still be able to see the unverified accounts they follow in the platform’s default For You feed.
Some security measures against imposter accounts have been introduced, which plagued a previous Twitter Blue push, such as blocking new accounts from signing up for the service for 30 days. Twitter Blue’s website page adds that the platform is “working on an updated process for new Twitter accounts to help minimize phishing risks and may enforce and change waiting periods for new accounts.” accounts without prior notice”.
Musk’s move is largely based on financial motivations, despite the anti-feudal rhetoric. When he tried to back out of the deal to buy Twitter, he argued that he was doing it because he believed the platform was riddled with annoying automated accounts. Twitter acknowledged that the platform had a bot problem, much of it related to pornography and cryptocurrency content, but Musk claimed it was much bigger than the company let on, meaning advertisers couldn’t assess if they were getting value for money.
Under legal pressure from Twitter, Musk was forced to go through with the acquisition, but remained adamant that bots were a problem and paid verification was the best solution. He said in his November 1 Twitter thread that prioritizing paid verified accounts in replies, mentions, and searches was “essential to beating spam/scam,” presumably under the logic that a bot account wouldn’t pay for a tic and would therefore be less prominent.
Musk is also determined to reduce Twitter’s reliance on advertising, something he already achieved with a botched relaunch of Blue in November that led to a slew of phishing accounts that in turn contributed to an exodus of advertisers (some advertisers they had also raised concerns about post-takeover moderation standards).
In its last published set of accounts, advertising accounted for 90% of Twitter’s $5 billion (£4 billion) annual revenue. According to Musk recently, revenue will be down to less than $3 billion this year. Costs have also been slashed, with a staff cut of about 75% to 1,500 people, which Musk says has removed the threat of bankruptcy. But if advertisers don’t come back in force, he’ll need more than the 600,000-635,000 Blue subscribers the platform is estimated to have, which equates to around $5 million or more in revenue per month.
Loss of verified status may persuade some users to pay. According to software developer Travis Brown, who tracks subscriptions for Twitter Blue, the number of subscriptions rose from 550,000 to 585,000 at the beginning of the month to his latest estimate of as high as 635,000. Some legacy verified accounts are likely within that total.
In the meantime, however, Twitter is hopeful that this move doesn’t hurt an invaluable but intangible commodity: trust. If Musk is replacing a feudal system, he must do so with a structure that will last. Journalists and commentators were among the thousands of accounts that lost their ticks on Thursday.
“Twitter’s approach may help your business, but it won’t help people identify who or what is worth listening to, and the danger is that it will ultimately erode the trust that is critical to long-term sustainability,” he says. Nic Newman, senior research associate. at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.